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Breaking magma during volcanic eruptions

Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences

About the Project

Volcanoes can behave effusively, explosively, or a combination of both. Effusive activity produces lava flows whereas explosive activity involves the breakage (fragmentation) of magma, dispersing molten droplets and potentially lethal ash clouds/flows. Fragmentation of high viscosity magmas has been extensively studied. However, little is known about the breakage of low viscosity magma, despite being the dominant product of volcanism on Earth and on other planets. During this PhD studentship you will combine novel laboratory approaches with field studies to better understand how low viscosity magmas break – key information, currently missing, that will aid prediction of eruption style

Project Aims and Methods:
During this project you will perform a series of state-of-the-art analogue experiments to determine under what conditions magma (of low viscosity) breaks (see Jones et al., (2019) for more details and context). Experiments will use an extensional apparatus that pulls analogue magma (liquid with particles and/or bubbles) samples apart at a known and specified rate. High-speed filming and image analysis will identify if and how fragmentation occurs. You will also be able to investigate the physical fluid properties in the specialist analogue labs at Liverpool. These properties include fluid rheology, density and surface tension.
You will also have the opportunity to conduct fieldwork at Tseax volcano, BC, Canada. The volcano is ~320 years old and is the deadliest volcanic eruption in Canadian history. The transition from explosive events to voluminous lava effusion resulted in the death of up to 2000 people and destroyed at least three Nisga’a First Nation villages. You will collect your own rock samples, and determine their textural characteristics, field relations and petrographic character to constrain the physical conditions active during the eruption at Tseax. You will use cutting-edge facilities in scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) at the Liverpool SEM Laboratory. Field work will be subject to Covid-19 developments, and there are several alternative locations also suitable for this study if required.

Knowledge and Skills Development:
Throughout the research studentship you will be integrated into the vibrant, active postgraduate research community in the Earth, Ocean & Ecological Sciences department. In particular your laboratory and field skills will be developed, learning methodologies to investigate and quantify features of a natural phenomenon that are otherwise inaccessible.

Further Information & Eligibility:
Previous laboratory and/or field experience would be useful along with reasonable numeracy skills. Candidates from underrepresented groups and candidates who have followed a non-traditional education path are strongly encouraged to apply for this position. Funding is available for UK and Irish nationals only.

For further information about the project applicants should contact Dr. Thomas Jones on

To apply please visit:

Funding Notes

Funding is available for UK and Irish nationals only.


Jones, T.J., Reynolds, C.D., Boothroyd, S.C., 2019. Fluid dynamic induced break-up during volcanic eruptions. Nature Communications 10, 3828.
Jones, T.J., Houghton, B.F., Llewellin, E.W., Parcheta, C.E. and Höltgen, L., 2018. Spatter matters–distinguishing primary (eruptive) and secondary (non-eruptive) spatter deposits. Scientific reports 8, 9179.
Villermaux, E., 2007. Fragmentation. Annu. Rev. Fluid Mech., 39, 419-446.

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